AI “tastes” beer — then tells brewers how to make it better

AI-designed beers were preferred in a blind taste test.
Sign up for the Freethink Weekly newsletter!
A collection of our favorite stories straight to your inbox

AI that predicts how to improve the taste of beer could help brewers develop the next beloved brew — and avoid having their creations poured down the kitchen sink.

The beer challenge: All beers share the same basic ingredients — grain, hops, yeast, and water. But between the different varieties of the basic ingredients, different alcohol contents, and optional special ingredients, like fruits or spices, brewers have a near-infinite number of flavor combinations they can try when developing a new beer.

To help them know when they’ve landed on a winner, they might ask trained beer experts to judge their new creations, but tasting sessions can be expensive, and panelists’ opinions are subjective. Once the session is over, the brewer might know what the experts did or didn’t like, but they won’t necessarily know why or how they might be able to make a better beer.

Better beer: Researchers from KU Leuven in Belgium have now trained an AI to predict how much people will like a beer and how a recipe could be tweaked to increase drinkers’ enjoyment of it — information that could be hugely useful to brewers.

“Once we did blind tastings, the beers became better, and more generally appreciated.”

Kevin Verstrepen

To do this, they started by analyzing 250 different beers, measuring more than 200 chemical properties, including pH, alcohol content, and sugar concentration.

They then had 16 expert tasters review the beers, scoring them in 50 categories. Finally, they collected 180,000 reviews of the beers from the online platform RateBeer, which included scores for aroma, taste, and other attributes.

Armed with all of that data, the team trained an AI to find connections between a beer’s chemical properties and how much people would like it. 

The experiment: To test their system, the researchers then “spiked” several off-the-shelf commercial beers with the compounds that the AI predicted would make them tastier — and it worked.

“We had the models analyze these beers and then asked them ‘How can we make these beers better?’” lead study author Kevin Verstrepen told MIT Technology Review.

“Then we went in and actually made those changes to the beers by adding flavor compounds,” he continued. “And lo and behold — once we did blind tastings, the beers became better, and more generally appreciated.”

“It’s not taking away the art of making good beer in an artisanal way.”

Kevin Verstrepen

Looking ahead: The ability of the AI to improve the taste of non-alcoholic beers, which generally receive the lowest scores from reviewers, could be their biggest application, according to Verstrepen. One of the beers they improved in their experiment was non-alcoholic, so it seems it can be done.

The team is working with Anheuser-Busch InBev — the largest brewer in the world and co-sponsor of the study — to explore that idea. Verstrepen is also collaborating with Belgian startup Bar.On to create a device that produces custom beers on demand.

While Verstrepen believes his team’s AI could help make better beer, he doesn’t envision it ever replacing human brewers. 

“I really see it as a tool,” he told New Scientist. “It will be used especially to make better alcohol-free beer, but it’s not taking away the art of making good beer in an artisanal way.”

We’d love to hear from you! If you have a comment about this article or if you have a tip for a future Freethink story, please email us at [email protected].

Related
Perplexity, Google, and the battle for AI search supremacy
AIs that generate answers to user queries could transform search, but only if someone can get the tech and the business model right.
How AI is rewriting Silicon Valley’s relationship with the Pentagon
Silicon Valley is warming to the Department of Defense as it works to get new AI systems developed and deployed en masse.
Ray Kurzweil explains how AI makes radical life extension possible
Life expectancy gains in developed countries have slowed in recent decades, but AI may be poised to transform medicine as we know it.
Microsoft’s “parallel bets” strategy won the PC Wars. Will it work for AI?
Microsoft made parallel bets to make sure they held their OS lead. They’ll do the same for AI — will it work?
Boosted Breeding and beyond: 3 tech trends that could end world hunger
A world without hunger is possible, and the development and deployment of new farming technologies could be one key to manifesting it.
Up Next
A bipedal robot walking through a ditch in a forested area, stirring up dust as it moves.
Subscribe to Freethink for more great stories